Los Angeles Business Journal

Ordinance Would Ban Chinatown Wal-Mart

By Alfred Lee Wednesday, March 21, 2012

City Councilman Ed Reyes is proposing to block retail chains from moving into Chinatown, an apparent reaction to the news that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is planning to open a grocery store in the neighborhood.

A motion introduced by the councilman that is scheduled to be heard by the Los Angeles City Council on Friday, calls for an interim ban on “formula retail” stores with standardized merchandise, décor and other features.

Reyes, who represents the neighborhood, claims the motion wasn’t specifically aimed at Wal-Mart, but was instead prompted by a need to protect Chinatown’s “character and uniqueness,” as well as safety concerns from increased traffic.

“How do we keep Chinatown’s ethnic historical character intact? That is a question that needs to be addressed,” he said, adding that he will introduce amending language so that the motion covers only certain kinds of chain stores.

However, the motion followed heavy lobbying by labor and community groups that oppose Wal-Mart’s planned Neighborhood Market grocery store, which would take up 33,000 square feet at 701 W. Cesar Chavez Ave.

“Wal-Mart has a history of driving out competition, and for a family-owned business it doesn’t take much in terms of lost revenue,” said James Elmendorf, deputy director at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a labor-backed group that has accused Wal-Mart of giving employees inadequate wages and benefits.

Elmendorf said LAANE had several conversations with Reyes’s office about the motion while it was being crafted.

A coalition of business groups including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and Chinatown Business Improvement District have come out against Reyes’s motion. The groups are planning a press conference Thursday to express support for the Wal-Mart.

“The current motion right now is not going to help our economy,” said Nicki Ung, executive director of the Los Angeles Chinese Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to be difficult for Chinatown to move forward if we’re in essence banning every sort of retailer that’s going to come in.”